Auctions News Market China

Christie’s owner returns Chinese bronzes

François Pinault is handing back two heads, of a rat and a rabbit, that came to auction as part of the collection Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé

The bronze heads of a rabbit and rat head were made for the Zodiac fountain of the Emperor Qianlong's Summer Palace in China. Photo: Xinhua

François Pinault, the owner of Christie’s and the head of the luxury goods group PPR, is handing back to China two Qianlong (18th-century) bronzes looted from its Old Summer Palace, which was destroyed when French and British troops sacked the palace in 1860, during the Second Opium War. The heads of a rat and a rabbit came to auction through Christie’s in 2009 as part of the sale of the collection of the late couturier Yves Saint Laurent and his partner and heir, Pierre Bergé. At the time, Cai Mingchao (an advisor to the China Cultural Relics Protection Fund) helped bid them up to €28m and subsequently refused to pay, as a protest over the sale. They were returned to Bergé but Pinault then acquired them, for an undisclosed price. The return of the bronzes was “an expression of friendship toward the Chinese people,” according to a spokesman for the country’s Administration of Cultural Heritage. This month has been significant for Christie’s in China: on 9 April the auction house announced it had obtained a license to operate independently in Shanghai.

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